So much for a day of rest, as this has been a Sunday of political twists and turns like none other, with the NDP cancelling its emergency caucus meeting, and the rumoured announcement of Christy Clark's entry to the race for the Premier's job delayed.
For the church-goer who might have spent an hour or so listening to a sermon Sunday morning, if you feel like being preached to a little bit longer then pick up the VSB staff report released to the public at noon. This ain't no ordinary bureaucratic report, it's an at times bizarre moral rationalization for deciding to do nothing on the school closures question.
The VSB report released today is titled "Public Consultation on School Closures and Recommendations to the Vancouver Board of Education," but you'd be forgiven after reading the passages copied below if you mistook it either for a Hollyhock marketing brochure, or the diaries of a wild-eyed cleric.
When it came to the report's conclusions, after spending approximately $30,000 to poll the public it's incredible that the VSB decided to ignore the findings outright. As we reported earlier today, when the public was asked if they would choose school closure, or cuts to programs and staff at schools, 48% of the 500-person poll sample said they would close schools. Only 32% said they would prefer keeping the school over the program or staff.
When asked if they wanted to close the school or keep it open (with no other options) a surprisingly high 37% said they would close the school in the face of tight budgets. 55% said they would keep it open.
So why did the VSB management recommend to keep all the schools open and place a moratorium on any closure discussion until 2012? Well, a cynic might suggest that it had something to do with the declining popularity of Vision Vancouver and the forthcoming November 2011 election. But you would be wrong.
Rather, the decision to keep the schools open was apparently a moral one. And if you argue otherwise, well, you'd be immoral. Here are several passages beginning at page 37 of the staff report under the heading "Section 5 -â€ Options, considerations, decision-â€making."
World-renowned educator, Michael Fullan at the University of Toronto argues, "Moral purpose is about ends and means. In education, an important end is to make a difference in the lives of (all) students. But the means of getting to that end are also crucial."
The school closure process has been one of extreme challenge and difficulty for all concerned. It is a process in itself that needs a thorough review. In deep philosophical, historical, political and ethical terms, the means may not necessarily justify the ends. However, from the outset, the process has provided keen insight, information and has placed a crucial level of importance on the qualitative, community voice that has emerged and predominated the public consultative process.
There's no question that many community voices spoke with sincerity at what their schools meant to them. But you'd be naive to ignore the amount of political organizing went into the consultation process, especially on the part of NDP MLAs who exploited several communities' anxiety. The report doesn't raise this as an issue.
The data used to arrive at recommendations and to be ultimately utilized in the decision-making process have included numerical information, which provided quantitative arguments suggesting due consideration of closure. These data remain cold, hard and alone without the warm, colourful and flavoured context of each community. The qualitative evidence provided at each public meeting painted a rich and vivid picture of each school and neighbourhood. Each school under consideration for closure is a unique case study. Mixing the two sources of evidence, objective and subjective together, results in a more complete story for each school.
However, another component must also enter into the information gathering and decision-making process, and that is the larger consideration of the entire school district and the students served throughout the system; more closely aligning community obligation versus individual preference and system priorities versus local needs.
This last paragraph reads as though the Governor is debating giving clemency for an inmate on death row, not whether the resources required by a community will get them. Incredibly, the most important and simple description of the dilemma is buried at the end of a long paragraph at the bottom of page 38:
The question of whether or not to protect buildings over staff, resources and programs is at the heart of the decision-making challenge.
Ya think? Well, the report goes on to another section with a sub-heading "Decision-making: An ethical dilemma" (yes, I'm not kidding on this). It begins:
The Board in having ultimate responsibility for determining the pathway and choice to take is faced with an ethical dilemma. Trustees must each weigh all of the evidence placed before them and collectively come to a final resolution. Their thought processes must pit the needs of the community for retaining a neighbourhood ‘school house’ against the broad needs of the school district for maintaining staff, resources and programs.
The image of a "school house" conjures poor kids walking barefoot down a remote country road. Cute, but hardly fitting.
Now the report all but asks us to bow our heads and close our eyes real tight with the following passage:
It is difficult to ascribe the need for moral courage with this situation. In fact, traditional definitions of courage involving danger and endurance do not seem to have a place in this ethical dilemma. However, adding the third dimension of principle enables one to see a connection. It is a principled position that will help describe a pathway to resolution. This is a question of commitment to principle in the face of potentially significant pressure over the needs of individuals versus community and the fiscal responsibility for the appropriate use of public funds. In the final analysis this is not just about the financial costs involved; one must also consider courage and what is right in a moral sense.
Get ready for the answer for this deep moral dilemma laid out by VSB staff. It's encapsulated in two paragraphs on page 40.
In trying to reach a sensible and credible solution that balances the needs of the larger community and those of the local school and neighbourhood, the either/or scenario may not be the answer. In seeking the necessary resolution to the dilemma first posed, in the final analysis, there may be a third way forward that provides middle ground for a resolution. It still enables the greatest good for the greatest number. It comes down to communication and dialogue. It is a compromise and it takes time. In the short term, it potentially creates great frustration and further uncertainty. It requires the initiation of conversation and debate among all members of the community. It depends on the commitment and dedication of all who have a stake in the educational enterprise. It requires the active participation of everyone who attended the public consultation meetings – and more.
The solution proposed is to put a hold on all school closures for an interim period. It calls on our respective communities to engage in a thorough and comprehensive exploration, examination and analysis of the educational and physical plant requirements for each sector in the city. It calls for a complete review in collaboration with city planners, provincial partners, community members and school district personnel.
This is indeed the best bureaucratic bafflegab I've read in an age. Apparently to be moral is to do nothing. And in the time it takes to cook a chicken dinner Vision and COPE endorsed the conclusions of this report.
What Vancouver needed from Steve Cardwell and his staff was leadership and a direction on where our public schools should go. Instead we got Moses dragging us up Mount Sinai.
Heaping the responsibility upon a future board, and not confronting the challenges faced by the system today, that to me sounds immoral.
UPDATE: The dinner hour newscasts are filled with gloating politicians saying their efforts "saved" the schools. MP Don Davies, MLA Adrian Dix and Coun. Kerry Jang squeezed themselves into the background of every camera angle of all the coverage. Meanwhile, the rhetoric from Vision continues with Mike Lombardi saying they're planning to use the political instability of the province to lobby for more funding, and Patti Bacchus reportedly said that the board was "making progress" during George Abbott's short stint as Education Minister (Margaret MacDiarmid, who became a whipping bull for the left, has returned as MoE).
- post by Mike